By By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW) Sylvia Nealy, USS Mount Whitney Public Affairs
KLAIPEDA, Lithuania (NNS) -- Forty U.S. Navy Sailors from the U.S. Sixth Fleet flagship, USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20) touched hearts and built lasting memories during a community relations (COMREL) project held during the four-day port visit in Klaipeda, Lithuania on Sept 12.
The Sailors visited 60 orphans at Klaipeda's orphanage, Rytas, which was established in 1993 when Klaipeda's first boarding school was reorganized. The children residing at the home are orphans from infancy to the age of 18 who lost parental care and stem from a negative social environment.
Regina Milasiene, the director of the orphanage, greeted the Sailors and shared the history of the orphanage since her arrival.
"When I came here eight years ago, the condition of the building was very poor; with the help of the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania, major parts of this building to include: bathrooms, bedrooms, the kitchen, and living room was renovated and is where it needs to be today," said Milasiene. "We are very happy that there are people in the world who want to help make this a better place while understanding the nature of the problems our children face."
Moments after her remarks, the children of the orphanage performed a short musical piece titled, "I am a Child," serving to honor the friendships they had formed with the Sailors.
Beyond building a memorable friendship with the children, the Sailors also helped to clean and beautify the orphanage grounds.
"There was an instant feeling of gratification from the children who filled the atmosphere with smiles and giggles," said Operation Specialist 1st Class (SW) Garry Meyers. "They immediately assisted with the work load and really appreciated the help we provided them today."
After the project was completed, the Sailors held a barbeque at the orphanage for the children and members of the Lithuanian Navy which gave them an opportunity to mingle and become better acquainted with each other.
"I love kids! I enjoyed the interaction with the children of different cultures and backgrounds," said Information Systems Technician 3rd Class Albert Finch. "Several children asked when we were coming back to visit and considered us best of friends."
The Sailors and children enjoyed a friendly game of basketball, several games of musical chairs, singing, and dancing during the barbeque.
"I liked the unity and camaraderie displayed between us," said Yeoman 3rd Class Zachary Williams. "Not too many people can say they had an opportunity to experience interaction first hand in another country while appreciating someone else's culture."
Mount Whitney Sailors were pleased they experienced this opportunity and were a part of the service project.
"Great job today! We were able to leave a lasting impression, and I'd like to share a heartfelt 'thank you' for the crew's efforts," said Command Master Chief (SW/SS/FMF) Larry Howard, Mount Whitney's command master chief. "The many tears of the young children as we departed were the final indicator of our positive impact."
Mount Whitney is scheduled to participate in the largest special operations exercise conducted within the U.S. European Command in 2010. Mount Whitney is the U.S. Sixth Fleet flagship homeported in Gaeta, Italy and operates with a hybrid crew of U.S. Sailors and Military Sealift Command civil service mariners.